It’s Not a Party Without Beer, Ham, and Automatic Weapons
Niksicksos in Kotor
Sometimes, but only rarely, good fortune comes in the form of a malevolent goat. After hiking around the Castle of San Giovanni, an old Venetian fortress located high in the mountains surrounding Kotor, Montenegro, a friend and I spotted what appeared to be a small café on the back portion of the mountain. Exhausted, sweaty, and covered in more cow dung than we were accustomed to (the portion of the mountain behind the castle is positively covered in it), we walked toward the building hoping to have a beer and take a rest before continuing our hike.
As we approached, we saw that the café was packed to the brim with people, and rather than deal with the crowd and the incredibly loud Montenegrin folk music blaring from the speakers, we decided to just keep going without our beer. That was when we ran into the goat. The goat and I eyed each other warily, then walked towards each other on the only path available. It quickly became clear that one of us was going to have to yield.
Proceeding slowly, my friend and I continued to walk, feigning indifference. Just as we were getting near the bend in the path that led up the mountain, the goat lowered its horns and broke into a trot; needless to say, the goat had won this round. Fortunately, this meant that we had no choice but to turn back towards the café and grab that beer.
But when we got to the door we were met by yet another obstacle, this time in the form of a man who told us in broken English that there was a private party going on and that we couldn’t come in. Just behind the door, however, we noticed a man who, based on his seat position and the copious amounts of rakija—desert wine—and Scotch bottles surrounding him, seemed to be the guest of honor. He yelled something in Montenegrin at the man bouncing us from the party and made an emphatic “sit down” gesture (one that we would see many more times that afternoon) with his arms.
We were allowed in and immediately served two Niksicksos (the national beer of Montenegro). Before we could take a sip, an elderly woman extended a platter of ham and cheese our way, which we initially refused, but after she began placing pieces of meat on our plates (and after the guest of honor yelled “eat!” from across the room) we acquiesced.
Sitting with our beers, more than a bit bewildered, we were able to get some information from the man sitting next to us, the only one at the party who knew any English. He informed us that the man who had demanded that we stay had just had his first child and that this was his celebration (all the more reason to celebrate because the first child was a son, a fact we were reminded of numerous times).
We smiled and toasted the new father. We were eager to climb down the mountain in order to beat the rain that been threatening to begin since morning,so we drained our beers and got up to leave and offer our congratulations. The host would have none of it, and made the same emphatic sit down motion as before. We obliged, and were immediately given two more beers and some more ham and cheese, food made just a few yards away by the host’s mother, on whose farm we were currently celebrating (the ham had that wonderful, elusive quality not often found in American meat – you could tell that it had come from an animal).
We made a couple more attempts to leave, all of which were denied. Eventually we settled in and stopped worrying about the rain. When we were finally allowed to leave, the rain had starting pouring and we were both a little drunk, but there were no more goats to harass us and the music and laughter bouncing around the mountain kept us warm on the way down.
It was a hospitality and joy at once both particular to the time and place (it isn’t everywhere that you get to watch men, drunk on rakija and ham, gleefully fire automatic weapons into the air, a proper Balkan celebration) and universal, transcending any cultural or linguistic barriers. A simple “cheers, my friends” were the only words the new father and I had exchanged, but nothing more was needed.